Brenden Fourie: bouncy, better and back

TELFORD VICE talks to Brendan Fourie - the bowler who could make all the difference for Border next season.

FEW victories would have generated more euphoria than Border's exhilarating Supersport Series conquest of Northern Transvaal at Centurion Park last summer. Audacious captaincy, pugnacious batting, destructive bowling: Border had played electrifying cricket, and not for the first nor the last time in 1996-97. Even the next morning's early and arduous business of the flight home - some heads being fuzzier than others - failed to dull the team's collective sense of triumph as they skipped buoyantly off the plane in East London.

And there, not exactly in celebratory mood, was Brenden Fourie, knowing his team-mates' joy but just as aware he was not part of it. Instead he was en route for Johannesburg to have his left ankle operated on - the upshot of the stress fracture which had curtailed his provincial season to a Supersport match, a Standard Bank League game and two Bowl fixtures.

For a bowler who had been at the heart of the Border attack for much of the preceding nine seasons, the moment is not among the happier mental snapshots of Fourie's career.

But it could yet prove a turning point.

That was in February, and following three months of golf and a month of gym work, swimming and cycling - anything but running - he has declared himself if not yet completely physically fit then hungry for the cricket that draws nearer with each lengthening day.

"The ankle feels better than it has in a year-and-a-half," Fourie said, hoping hard and counting the days until Border's pre-season training regimen starts on July 14.

If he negotiates the joys of shuttle sprints and bleep tests successfully, it will be into the nets to separate the blokes from the bowlers.

Running in to bowl for the first time on an untested ankle and going through the elegant, aimed fury that is Fourie's action - left foot crashing down and all - is an experience few would envy him.

Then the pecking order will be set up in the form of the A and B squads. Having forced his way onto the right list Fourie will have to deal with the fact that Dion Taljard, a friend far longer than he has been a Border team-mate, is the man he will have to dispossess to get back into the team.

For many it would be too long and steep a road back to a pinnacle reluctantly vacated two summers ago. For Fourie it can't come soon enough:

"You can only watch so much cricket."

He did plenty of that last season, and the bright side was that being forced into inactivity uncomplicated his daily life.

"I was teaching, studying, trying to train - although I had the injury, which made me try to adapt my action - and trying to change my action to get more away swing going," Fourie said. "I was very hesitant approaching the crease and in delivery I was just trying to put the ball there because I couldn't run in. "The harder I tried the worse I bowled."

Then, after Fourie had conceded 55 runs in six overs during Border's day-night loss to Northerns, came the inevitable axing. "Hi, Roy, I've been expecting your call," Fourie said when the convener of selectors, Roy Taylor, telephoned to tell him.

It was the first time in his provincial career that Fourie had been dropped on performance, and the medical veto which followed came not as a second blow but as a release.

"Physically and mentally I was out of it last season and I felt like I needed to recharge the batteries," Fourie said. "I've been slogging it out at Buffalo Park, where I've tended to do a lot of bowling. My knee, shoulder and ankle problems are probably due to over-use because in the past we haven't had the back-up."

Fourie has consistently bowled more overs than any other Border paceman as he has been expected to fill the dual role of strike bowler as well as containment specialist.

"I was finished at the end of 1995-96," he said, the comment jarring with the facts that he bowled long, profitable spells in taking 29 first-class wickets that season - Ian Howell was second on the Border list with 18 - and was voted player of the season by his team-mates.

Now, his ankle problems dealt with, his degree in human movement science finally on the wall and a new job as a sales rep for an educational publishing company to tackle, Fourie is free to await the 1997-98 with enthusiasm. Not least because the most likely consequence of Peter Kirsten's retirement would be Piet Botha moving down the batting order as well as keeping a lower bowling profile. With Makhaya Ntini and Vasbert Drakes sharing the new ball and Botha at first change, who better than Fourie at the other end with the spinners to come.

"I like to attack the wicket and to attack the batsman, and I don't think my role will change that much," Fourie said.

Border coach Stephen Jones, although keen to "avoid sending out signals that the team is already picked", agreed with the theory: "The fact that Brenden hardly got onto the park last year certainly must not count against him. He's right in the thick of our strategy for next season."

Jones also emphasised Fourie's value as a first rate boundary fielder and a none too shabby late middle order batsman. "I think there's a lot of good waiting to happen for Border next season," was Fourie's summing up of the balance the attack should enjoy and the batting Border will be able to call on.

Few would begrudge Brenden Fourie his share of that good.

Source: Daily Dispatch, June 26 1997